Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
"My dad's first job was as a soda jerk," explains owner Brad Rubin as he pulls out a black-and-white picture of his father wearing a 40s diner outfit. "So I grew up in a house with some very eccentric parents who had their own soda fountain. I grew up learning how to make milkshakes." Rubin has translated that childhood experience into Eleven Lincoln Park, a new diner with an extensive non-alcoholic beverage program that includes barrel-aged root beer, plus milkshakes, phosphates, and egg creams made with refurbished antique equipment.
Rubin already owns one diner-style joint, the Eleven City Diner in the South Loop. This is his first foray onto the North Side. The menu is filled with classic Jewish deli dishes: home-roasted pastrami and brisket, a giant smoked fish platter with sable and salmon, pickled green tomatoes, fried onion strings. and more. To wash all that down, Rubin recommends that you try one of their two (yes, two) homemade root beers.
"We're really fortunate to have a brewing partner for the root beers. It's a local family," says Rubin, who isn't willing to reveal their name. "They're brewing the syrup for us, and we draw and mix it here." Rubin brings in growlers of syrup and puts them into custom-made barrel dispensers that mix the syrups with soda water to create the finished product, which is served in a frosted mug.
Ruben describes the "classic" style root beer as smooth and almost savory. "It's brewed with two kinds of sugar, both corn syrup and cane sugar. They use a bit more anise, more wintergreen," Rubin explains. "It's more husky, more meaty; it's got more oomph to it." The other option, a blond root beer, is made with only cane sugar and is lighter and sweeter.
After it's made, "the actual root beer syrup is aged for twelve months in a merlot cask," Rubin says, in order to deepen the flavor. Eleven Lincoln Park is also offering a custom-made cream soda, which is dark, not clear. "We have to let folks know that it might not be what they expect, or they get confused," Rubin laughs. You'll find local Green River soda on draft, as well as an assortment of sodas from Michigan and Wisconsin. His Brooklyn Egg Cream is made with Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup that he's shipped in from the East Coast.
Why offer such a complicated program of non-alcoholic drinks program? Rubin has a simple explanation: "Because it's fun."
About the author:Anthony Todd is Food and Drink Editor of Chicagoist.com. Follow him on Twitter (@FoodieAnthony).
Eleven Lincoln Park
2301 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614 (map)